It Would Be Easier to Pray if I Were Clear – Ted Loder

It Would Be Easier to Pray if I Were Clear

O Eternal One,
It would be easier for me to pray
if I were clear
and of a single mind and a pure heart;
if I could be done hiding from myself
and from you, even in my prayers.
But, I am who I am,
mixture of motives and excuses,
blur of memories,
quiver of hopes,
knot of fear,
tangle of confusion,
and restless with love,
for love.
I wander somewhere between
gratitude and grievance,
wonder and routine,
high resolve and undone dreams,
generous impulses and unpaid bills.
Come, find me, Lord.
Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
Help me accept what I am,
so I can begin to be yours.
Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
young enough to question,
simple enough to giggle,
old enough to forget,
foolish enough to act for peace;
skeptical enough to doubt
the sufficiency of anything but you,
and attentive enough to listen
as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
into the chancy glory of my possibilities
and the power of your presence.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, LuraMedia, 1984

Road Trip Tips from an Impatient Dad

So first off, I must confess that I am not the best traveler. In fact, my wife would be the first to say that I’m usually the first person kid to ask, “Are we there yet?” Also, I can have a bit of an attitude which she would describe as pessimistic but I would define as realistic (as a friend from church often says, “trips are about making memories, not having fun.” 😉 Anyway, in case there are any other “impatient dads” out there here are a few tips I can offer after traveling fourteen hours through six states with my wife and four kids over the past two days…

Tip #1 – Always Be Prepared

Now I don’t just mean regular prepared (snacks, screens, etc.) I mean Boy Scout prepared (quarters, dimes, and nickels). That’s right, change can be your best friend and I don’t just mean for tolls. When in doubt I always go to my sure fire standby… A Coloring Contest. It’s a great way to curb the constant bickering, bring about some much needed calm and quiet, and, best of all, all you need is some pieces of paper, a box of crayons, a few parameters, and whatever loose change you have lying around in your ashtray cup holder. Quarters, dimes, nickels, even pennies–it doesn’t matter because the real prize is personal glory and bragging rights (but seriously, you do need some change). For less than $1 you can keep your sanity for sometimes up to an hour and the good news is that as long as you have more change (and kids with a competitive spirit) you can use this tactic again, and again, and again, and again.

Tip #2 – Get in Good with the Guy at the Front Desk

Over the years we have stayed at many hotels that didn’t quite live up to their 2 1/2 star rating and our most recent stay in Dayton, Ohio was no exception. Thankfully though, I’ve learned the old adage that it’s easier to catch flies with honey is actually true. As long as you can keep your cool and make a friend at the front desk what might start out as a nightmare can turn into a nice stay (or at the very least nicer). This proved true last night when we raced to get to our hotel in order to still spend a half an hour in the pool before it was closed and I spent the first few minutes at the front desk waiting while the gentleman on the other side tended to the important matter of making sure that his dinner order was correct. After making chit chat and copying my credit debit card twice (because he copied the wrong side the first time) he sent me on my way to Room 131.

This actually brings up another important rule, let’s call it Tip #2a, which is Never Unpack Your Van Before Checking Out Your Room First. After wheeling our luggage cart down the long corridor and figuring out which direction to swipe our keyless entry card we walked into our non-smoking two double bed room to smell, well, smoke. And, it didn’t exactly smell like it came from regular old tobacco if you know what I mean. So I went back to the front desk and after listening to the excuse that there’s were some rule breakers staying there previously and explaining that, no, spraying a little air freshener would not solve the problem we were swiftly moved to another room on the 4th floor which had a King Size bed (score!) and a fold out couch. This would suit us well because we figured that our youngest could sleep in the big bed with us, my other two girls could take the couch, and we had brought a fold-out cot for my son. Upon opening the couch though we found wadded up dirty sheets with toys in them. Time for another trip to the front desk.

After another apology by him I was assured we would have new sheets delivered ASAP along with a fold-out bed for my son (no charge of course) and he even got the pool guy on the line to say that we could have an extra 15 minutes for our troubles. In the end the bed was big and comfortable (or so my wife told me as she sprawled out on her side while I had a 3 yr. old curled up next to me on mine), the breakfast this morning was good, my son didn’t have to sleep on a cot, and we got wet before bed which which was our goal. Would I recommend this hotel to my friends? No. In fact, I did argue with my wife about leaving a tip the next morning because I didn’t want to reward a poor job (Did I mention I also had to go down for toilet paper and had no towels for the pool???). But am I glad I made a friend at the front desk? Absolutely! Because trust me… It could have been worse. I know. But that’s a tale for another time.

Tip #3 Find Your Happy Place

After a second day full of “He keeps putting stuff on my feet!” and “She keeps kicking my stuff!” despite new seating assignments, I was getting pretty irritable so, for the sake of my wife and the longevity of my children, I plugged my earbuds into my iPhone, put my seat back, covered up with the closest thing around (a nice pink baby blanket), and let Netflix wisp me away to another realm. That is, until the kids noticed and started bantering for both my blanket and my iPhone. 🙂

In the end we made our destination and will enjoy our stay with family until it is time for the return home. I will try to remember my own tips for the way back. You should to. But, even if you try and all else fails, remember to… Pray before you pull out of the driveway, forgive at the end of the day, and always ALWAYS make friends with the guy at the front desk.

How We Became a “Fair Family”

This past September, soon after school began, the phone rang and after answering it I was a bit perplexed. The voice on the other end was quickly telling me where I needed to be and which collar I needed to bring the be the next evening. I didn’t understand what she was talking about and thought she had the wrong number for one main reason… we don’t own a dog. Apparently though that fact had not crossed my nine year old son’s mind because he had in fact signed up for Dog Training through the local chapter of 4-H. After explaining the situation the woman in charge graciously offered to let my son train her dog. I saw this as a blessing because he has always wanted a dog and here was his opportunity to at least be a partial owner for a temporary basis.

As someone who grew up with dogs (not to mention cats, chickens, guinea hens, pigs, and even a pet bat and baby chipmunk at one point) I understood his wanting to have a dog but, because of our constant travel (plus trying to care for the four kids we already have) it just wasn’t practical. We do have a cat but, unlike a dog who needs instant attention, exercise, and an outdoor potty, with a cat you can pretty much put out a bag of food, leave the toilet seat up, and lock the door on your way out. No, we couldn’t have a dog but maybe just maybe this would be the next best thing. I mean, what’s a few weeks of traveling back and forth to the Fair Grounds if it means my boy can be happy. Win-win! Or so I thought.

What I thought would last for maybe eight weeks turned into eight months. Thankfully a couple in our church who liked dogs and loved my kids offered to take him as much as they could. Before I knew it the months had passed and pretty soon school and, I presumed, Dog Training was coming to an end. That’s when the word “Fair” first started to circulate and I soon realized what this would entail. Now at first I didn’t give it a second thought because we typically travel in the summer and had actually missed the last four Fairs and knowing how busy our summer was I figured this would be number five. After looking over the calendar to see that I was speaking at Quizzing Nationals one week and then teaching teens at camp the next followed by a short respite and then back to back weeks of travel/vacation I realized that I was only home for one full week–Fair Week.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Fair and grew up helping out every year at the Rodeo myself but I had heard the stories of Fair Families who were always coming and going and waiting and watching and sweating and sneezing and (you get the picture). After having to sleep in a small cabin with six others during the previous week’s heat wave I was looking forward to a little bit of rest (and a whole lot of AC) but that’s not what was in the cards. Instead, we found out this past week what it’s like to wait for shows, work on agility, wait, wait, and wait some more. We found out the ins and outs of subjective judging, that just because can eat an entire funnel cake topped with peanut butter cups doesn’t mean that you necessarily should, and we were also thankful to get some insider scoop about what we needed to do and not do to get through it all.

At the end of the day week my son had successfully made it through all the hoops and hurdles, both figuratively and literally, and walked away with three 4th Place Ribbons, one 3rd Place Ribbon, a 25 cent stuffed animal that he one for only $5.00 and a smile on his face. On the way home he told me about how excited he was not only to do it all again the next year but that he planned on accepting offers from church friends to show their pigs, chicken, and even a sheep. And that’s all it took. Apparently we are now and forever (or at least until he moves onto his next phase) a “Fair Family”. Please pray for me…

Bible Quiz Nationals Chapel @ RWC

This is a short clip of the Bible Quizzers I’ve been speaking to at chapel everyday this week as they recite a couple of our theme verses [1 Timothy 6:11-12, 2 Timothy 2:22]

This was a great group of kids. I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day…

Speaking at Bible Quiz Nationals

This week I am the Chapel Speaker for Free Methodist Bible Quiz Nationals where roughly 500 students from around the country come and compete to see who absorbed, memorized, and can regurgitate all that thy have learned this past year.

I was honored to be asked to speak but I also felt a little unqualified because every person in the auditorium this morning had something in common–they have all had more Bible Quizzing experience than me. I quizzed my senior year of high school 22 years (ahem) a while ago and, because my teammates didn’t stick with it, I didn’t even get to finish the season and never got to go to Nationals even though I had won every individual round that I had competed in.

And so, as I prepared to address these young men an women with their brains bursting at the seams with newfound biblical knowledge, I thought that I had better be able to give a good reason why THEY should listen to ME. And then it him me… my tenure as a Quizzer wasn’t very long but the impact of those passages that I had studied way back when have shaped my life, formed my ministry, and continue to impact me to this very day!

And so I look forward to sharing again tomorrow, not because I can quote as many verses or can boast as many trophies but, because I get to stand before 500 young men and women and imagine how THEIR lives will be impacted thanks to the time an effort they have taken to hide God’s Word in their heart and how much better we will all be because of it.

The Unseen Scars of Being Bullied

As of today I am almost 40 yrs. old and I have the receding hairline and protruding waistline to prove it. I am a husband and a father of four, I am the lead pastor of my church, I have several degrees and am working on yet another. I have accomplished many things which you might think would help one’s self-esteem and yet, on a fairly regular basis, I find myself feeling inadequate and more often than not unable to see myself through any other eyes than those who bullied and abused me as a child. I find myself wanting to walk by faith and yet feeling more like a failure and a fraud in spite of the apparent fruit of my actions.

This weekend I am going to be preaching about Gideon a man who succeeded in spite of his somewhat lackluster faith, as seen by his testing of the fleece, and one of the things that often sticks out to me is how God addresses him during their first encounter when he appeared and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12b) The reason why I find this so interesting is because how God views Gideon seems the polar opposite of how Gideon sees himself. Later, when God wants him to step up and He tells him to go up against the Midianites and save Israel Gideon’s reply is, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:15b)

It is amazing how much our own self-perceptions differ from the potential God sees in us, especially when He knows what can happen if we’re willing to allow Him to use His strength through us in spite of our own weaknesses and shortfalls.

All that being said, I get it. I get why Gideon had a hard time seeing what God saw in him. Just as God called him a Mighty Warrior long before he embodied that title others had probably called him other things that had already shaped his own identity and caused him to focus on what he couldn’t do and wouldn’t become. I get it.

As I stated earlier I am nearing 40 and have received and acted upon God’s call on my life for over two decades now but no matter how many times God addresses me as Pastor or Leader I immediately find myself feeling like I’m back in the body of my 8 year old self; listening to my father explain why he never wanted me and that he had already done his time as a dad, or when I was 10 just waiting to get off the bus so that I could burst into tears over the hurtful words heaped onto me without further humiliation, or beginning middle school and realizing that even though it was supposed to be a fresh start that I was still the odd man out (no thanks to my speech problems or alternative sense of style), or trying to find any excuse to avoid the rest room (or school all together) because of the constant array of verbal, emotional, and physical attacks that I had to endure on a daily basis.

I get why, when God called Gideon “Mighty Warrior” that, he countered with the excuse that he was “the weakest man from the weakest clan”. I get why when God called Moses (a murderer who had gone AWOL) to set the slaves free his initial response was, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11b). I get why when God called Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) his initial response was, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The emotional scars that are carried from a tormented childhood may not be visible in the same sense as other physical wounds that have since healed yet they are often the hardest to overcome because the wound has not healed; it has cut too deep; down to the core–to a person’s very character.

People often wonder about my fascination with Batman but why wouldn’t I relate to a boy who had his childhood torn away from him because of the ruthless actions of others and, rather than dwelling in that feeling of helplessness, took control of the situation and chose to become a symbol and to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. The irony is that even in becoming “The Batman” Bruce Wayne was still just a scared little boy trying to overcome his fears by becoming fear itself to those who would prey on the weak. I get it.

I AM a pastor. I AM a leader. I AM a husband. I AM a father. But I am also that wounded young boy that longs to be accepted, affirmed, acknowledged, and appreciated not because of what I have done but simply because of who I am, was created to be, and am still called to be.

The scars are still there but the healing has begun. Thanks to The Lord names like “Mighty Warrior” and “Pastor” seem more suitable than weakest or worthless. The struggle is still there and I pray to The Lord constantly to erase my old identity from my heart and mind but, like Paul and his thorn, I have come to the place where I hear God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b,10)